Sunday, January 08, 2006

AET's Questionable Vocational Career Certificates

We have previously examined the Academy of Entertainment and Technology's Themed Entertainment major in two blog articles entitled "Jim Keeshen's Great Big Show" and "AET's Degrees of Deception." Now, let's take a close look at Santa Monica College's vocational school's other occupational certificate entitled "Entertainment Industry Business Major."

Here's a screenshot of the AET webpage as it appeared in Fall 1998:

AET Website with Entertainment Business Occupational Certificate

On or about December 12, 1998, AET's website states the following under its Courses & Curriculum: "The Academy curriculum is designed through a public-private partnership; educators and entertainment industry leaders working together with the goal of creating courses to train students for real jobs in the entertainment industry. The curriculum continues to develop to meet industry needs." AET lists four occupational certificates: Computer Animation, New Interactive Media, Entertainment Industry Business Accounting, and Themed Entertainment Operations and Management.

Here's a screenshot of the AET Entertainment Industry Business Accounting Focus:

AET Entertainment Business Acounting Courses

Again, AET offers "the goal of immediate employment" on its 1998 AET program webpage. Now, let's move forward a year later and look at what an AET's cached website from October 13, 1999 has to state:

The ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS PROGRAM trains students in current industry practices in production, entertainment law, entertainment accounting, human resources, media marketing and communications, and ethics in the entertainment industry. Designed to meet industry needs, the objective of the program is to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the business side of the entertainment industry. The Entertainment Business curriculum is under revision, but you can view the old curriculum.

What? There's no new revised curriculum listed? Just the old one? And look what else the course and curriculum page adds:

The Academy of Entertainment and Technology at Santa Monica College trains students in computer and traditional animation, interactive media and entertainment business (with a focus in accounting and production management). The curriculum, reviewed annually, is designed to meet industry needs and to reflect current industry trends. A program in Themed Entertainment is currently in development.

Our mission is to teach students to be flexible professionals who can adapt to a variety of projects and roles in a rapidly changing field. We offer hands-on training on state-of-the-art technology, using industry standard software including Alias/Wavefront Maya, Houdini, Dreamweaver, Director, Flash, 3D Studio Max, and PhotoShop.

The Academy's Advisory Board members currently represent motion picture and television studios, visual effects houses, multimedia, and music companies. The Academy's campus is located in the heart of the West Side entertainment district. Our faculty are experienced industry professionals who bring first hand knowledge of industry practices to the classroom. An open computer lab is available for students to work on computer projects outside of class. Many of the Academy industry partners offer internships to qualified students.

Wait a minute here... "A program in Themed Entertainment is currently in development." But the Themed Entertainment program was listed a year ago. How could it be in development? The Entertainment Business major is supposed to focus on accounting and production management. Where are the production management courses to support this contention?

Let's jump forward another year to December 17, 2000. Still no Themed Entertainment. Also, the "Entertainment Production Management curriculum is under revision, but you can view the old curriculum." How long does it take to revise this occupational certificate?

Now let's go to Spring 2001 semester where we see the following:

The ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT - The Entertainment Production Management curriculum is under revision and is not being offered at this time. You can view the old curriculum.

Yet this same page adds:

The Academy of Entertainment and Technology at Santa Monica College trains students in computer and traditional animation, interactive media and entertainment production management. The curriculum, reviewed annually, is designed to meet industry needs and to reflect current industry trends.

So, how can this program be "under revision" yet not be "offered at this time"? This makes no sense to me. Also, if the curriculum is "reviewed annually" and "designed to meet industry needs," it seems that the Entertainment Business major would have been revised and courses would be filled as entertainment business and accounting are necessary jobs in the industry.

Let's go forward again to December 15, 2001, a semester later. The Entertainment Business major has completely vanished. Only Computer Animation and Interactive Media remain. Move forward to February 4, 2002, and we see the same results. Entertainment Business has fallen off the radar. What about November 25, 2002?

By June 13, 2002, AET has a new website. Still no Entertainment Business major. And let's go to November 25, 2002. Still the same thing. Here's a screenshot confirming this fact:

AET Curriculum for Fall Semester 2002

Not only haven't the Themed Entertainment and Entertainment Business vocational occupational certificates returned, but AET has lost approximately half of its alleged entertainment industry partners. Take a look at the
AET Industry Partnership Chart I made.

Now fast-forward to March 2005 and compare the screenshot above with the one below:

AET Curriculum for Spring 2005

The Animation 2D Curriculum Grid and 3D Curriculum Grid have been replaced with a single Animation Curriculum Grid. Gone also is the mention of opportunities to pursue personal vision, to work with a creative team, and the participation in internships with industry partners. I guess those things are no longer important at the Academy of Entertainment & Technology.

Let's finally move to the current AET website for Spring 2006. Under the
Career Certificates webpage, it states: "The Entertainment Technology program offers career certificates in Animation, Game Development, Post Production, Visual Effects and Web Design." What happened to Interactive Media? That's been swallowed whole as well. Sigh... Yet, look at all these four new career certificates. Oh, but they're all "pending approval." You can read more by downloading the 29-page 2005-2006 Entertainment Technology Program Guide.

When, if ever, will these "career certificates" be approved? Don't hold your breath. According to the
credit inventory webpage belonging to the California Community College Chancellor's Office for Santa Monica City College, Web Design and Development isn't even pending approval until 2007. Here's two screenshots I made from the "Inventory of Approved and Projected Programs Sorted by Colleges" for SMC. The first is the headings and the second relate to AET courses as follows:

California Community College Chancellor's Office Approved Courses

Santa Monica College AET Approved and Pending Courses

Notice that Game Development, Post Production, and Visual Effects aren't even listed. Something even more disturbing is that the Animation and both Interactive Media certificates weren't even approved by the Chancellor's Office until 2002! How can that be when they are listed on AET's website since 1998? Once again, let's take a peek at AET's website for December 1998 under its program webpage:

AET Majors, Mission and Partners for December 1998

In 1998, we have four occupational certificates in SMC's vocational school. Six years later, in 2002, two of the certificates have vanished and the other two have only just received approval. Another four years have gone by and only one certificate, animation, remains while one new certificate may see the light of day. However, keep in mind that the web design and development program is just a repackaged version of the interactive media certificate.

Not only have the programs vanished, but so have the
industry partners, the administrators, and the faculty. Compare my list of AET faculty from 1999 to the present. Additionally, the current AET website fails to show samples of any students' work online. As usual, we're told: "this area is currently under construction." Yeah, just like the curriculum is "under revision." Compare this with equivalent schools that do showcase their students' work. Here's the screenshot I made to prove it:

AET Website for 2006 fails to show students work

Add to that the issue of missing
scholarships and donations, and we're only left with funding. However, according to Santa Monica College's Technology Master Plan Sources of Funds for 1998-2000:

The technology needs of the college are immense. Unfortunately, the infusion and currency of the technology is controlled by the level of available resources. In the last two academic years, the college has invested more money into technology than anytime in its history. The sources of funds for these acquisitions are varied and unpredictable.

One of the primary sources of funds, that is now the most reliable, is the instructional equipment grant from the State of California. Now that instructional equipment funds have been incorporated into our base revenue, the college can anticipate approximately $750,000 plus a required district match of $250,000 for a total of $1 million each year. However, these can only be used for instruction and cannot be used exclusively for technology because they must also pay for regular instructional equipment (e.g. microscopes, pianos, and easels). The second major source of funds from the State of California is block grant funds. These are one-time only funds that are distributed as part of annual Proposition 98 reconciliations. While they have been bountiful the last two years, they are very unpredictable. Furthermore, most people believe they will be smaller over the next two years from what they have been during the last two years (over $1 million each year). The third source of funds from the State of California is the Telecommunications Grant. While it is clearly the smallest of the three sources, in the current year it is providing funds for the library technology and technology training components of the Technology Master Plan.

Besides state funds, there are also three sources of local funds used to pay for the Technology Master Plan. The first source of funds comes from the Associated Students Card sales. While a portion of the funds are used by the district to fund technology for students and related student services in the Technology Master Plan, the remainder of the funds are controlled by the Associated Students Board on a project basis. While they hopefully spend in accordance with the Technology Master Plan, the allocation is at their discretion. The second local source of funds is unrestricted general funds. Clearly the first level of contribution from these funds is to make the necessary district match (e.g. instructional equipment). However, in lean years, these general funds have become the primary source of funds. Each year this is a budget decision based on college revenues, alternative technology sources of revenues and competing uses for general funds. The third source of local funds is contributions (both money and equipment). The Academy has clearly been the most successful area to engender this type of support.

The final source of funds for technology is grant monies. The college has been successful in selected areas. This year the college received $1.25 million in a state grant for the Academy. VATEA funds have also helped every year to pay for small acquisitions and occasionally a large purchase (e.g. VERC lab). The difficulty with grants is they are unpredictable and many specifically prohibit the use of funds for equipment.

The uncertainties of these funding sources make it difficult to write a meaningful Technology Master Plan. It is unlikely that there will be more than $2.5 million available in any given year except when the college also receives a single purpose grant. Therefore, the plan needs to be prepared to adjust each year to the level of available funds. Part of the reason the technology has been so well funded during these last two years is that the administration and the Academic Senate made it a district priority. That commitment needs to remain in place if the college hopes to implement the needed changes in technology.

So, the Master Plan for Technology lacks meaning due to uncertainty of funds. That's not very comforting. Oh, and where is that
$1.25 million state grant given to AET? SMC has repeated failed to disclose it in our requests for public records under the California Public Records Act.

Nor has SMC released the
enrollment figures for AET as requested. Robert Sammis has claimed that SMC doesn't keep separate enrollment records for the Academy. However, pursuant to SMC's Master Plan for Education, revised July 2001, there exists Institutional Research Reports that govern "Headcount & FTES Enrollment by Session & Discipline - 1984 to Present." Furthermore, I think this screenshot taken from SMC's Academic Senate Report for 2002 will show otherwise as well as confirming that AET did not meet its mandated minimum of 500 FTES as set forth by the California Postsecondary Education Commission:

AET Enrollment Figures for 2002

Remember the Animation World News Database website which
Jim Keeshen Productions used to allegedly falsely advertise itself? Well, AET also has a school profile on this site. Here's its list of Program Categories: Character Animation, Computer Animation/Digital Art, Graphic Design, Multimedia/Games, Web Graphics/Design, Web Animation, Animation History/Theory, Distance Learning, Online Courses, Vocational Training. Wow! All those programs which are "pending approval." And of course Animation History which is longer being taught by Professor Jim Keeshen for Spring 2006, yet it is also listed here.

Notice that the number of students is listed as 855 with 100 foreign students and a student-teacher ratio of 1:24. However, these numbers may be inflated as distance education and dual enrollment of high school students may account for the alleged total. Again, this disproves Robert Sammis' contentions that AET does not maintain separate enrollment records. How could AET effectively budget its program and hire its faculty if it didn't know how many students were attending its vocational satellite campus?

This isn't the only place where AET plugs its non-existent game development program and other pending certificates. In an article by the Ocean Park Gazette, dated January 31, 2005, entitled "SMC adds video game development to curriculum," it states the following:

In response to explosive growth in the game industry, the Santa Monica College Academy of Entertainment and Technology is offering a cluster of new classes in game development and special effects this spring.

The new classes -- added to two game courses introduced in the fall -- will lead to three new certificate programs that will officially be launched in fall 2005. The certificate programs are in game development, special effects and post production.

"The game industry is exploding, and we're jumping on this so that we can get students trained and into exciting careers," said William Lancaster, chair of the design technology department at SMC's widely praised Academy of Entertainment & Technology.

"The growth and impact of the game industry are staggering - the film industry grosses $8 billion, compared to $14 billion-plus by the game industry," Lancaster said. "Another example is Sony, which derives 70 percent of its revenues from Play Station products."

Included in the new course lineup at SMC are Game Play Mechanics, Software Authoring and Prototyping for Games, Digital Video Effects, and Multi-track Audio Editing. The courses will feature advanced instruction in software tools such as Unreal Engine, Director MX, After Effects, Pro Tools, Final Cut and Maya.

The game development courses are added to current offerings in 3D animation, web design, and digital audio and video.

Registration for spring semester classes is currently under way. Classes begin Feb. 14. For information, call (310) 434-3720.

What's even more important was that during this very same semester, AET Dean Katharine Muller removed the AET computer lab privileges for myself and other students in Professor Jeannie Novak's ET 42 Game Development course, stating that this course was not a valid computer course entitling us to computer lab privileges.

By fall 2005, the game development certificate was still pending and not officially launched as alleged. In fact, the course was cut down from a 3 unit 16 week course to a 1 unit 8 week course that fall with continued denial of computer lab access. Is this helping either part-time instructor Jeannie Novak or any of the AET students such as myself to learn game development or to train us for one of these exciting careers in the video game industry as promised by AET Chair Bill Lancaster? According to SMC's Master Plan for Technology, as cited above, isn't this very same computer lab funded by district, state, and federal funds as well as student tuition dollars?

Oh, we've heard it all before and we haven't seen the results to prove it. On the contrary, the facts and figures state otherwise. Having said that, is AET practicing deceptive advertising to lure potential students into its failing vocational program? One simply needs to go to SMC's Student and Staff Profile Archives to see how SMC has recently segregated AET students from the rest of the student body at the college. We were all merely "students" at SMC when my profile was placed on SMC's website in Fall 2003. Now, a few years later, in Spring 2005, SMC's AET students are listed as "Academy of Entertainment & Technology" students. By Spring 2006, one profile lists the student under "Computer Animation/Academy of Entertainment & Technology." SMC has gone one step further and now separates the AET student with his or her degree. So, take AET's questionable vocational career certificates with a grain of salt.

-- Des Manttari,
Editor-in-Chief,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP


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